Saturday, April 30, 2016
Priced to sell
Yesterday I read that Susan Gutfreund
has put her Fifth Avenue duplex on the
market for $120 Million. While most
undoubtably a spread, and located in
one of the city's best buildings, I was
still gobsmacked. Not because certain
people can live that way - but because
many actually do. Which explains the
prices on Bergdorf''s seventh floor.
Obviously some folk need not blink an
eye or suffer sticker shock given the
balance in their Swiss bank accounts.
In so many ways they're above us all.
It's easy to label others as "rich". There
has always been a certain tier of those
who have more than enough. By their
very nature they are different from the
rest. However it seems that more and
more are populating the high and low
extremes with few left in the middle.
What worries me is that ever widening
schism between "us" and "them". In
places like Manhattan most will never
get ahead, even if they want to. And at
some point, said gap could drive some
to anarchy. It's happened before...
Marie Antoinette, Czar Nicholas, or
Imelda Marcos may have been nice
people but it's certain they were out
of touch. Most monarchies have faded
with time yet elitism is alive and well
here in the United States of America.
And while this boy certainly enjoys
all of the accoutrements that come
with being manor born, I can't help
but fret. After all, a very wealthy man
with a gold plated apartment is about
to become the Republican candidate
for President. Is he our gold standard?
Character is no longer the key measure
of leadership. Rather it's bravado, cash,
and private planes. A century ago, the
Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Astors lived
like kings yet they knew better than to
run for the nation's top slot. Whether
that was due to decorum or the fact that
they preferred to pull strings from the
sidelines doesn't matter. You see, power
has always fueled greed. The difference
is that today Americans seem to enjoy
celebrating avarice. Have we decided
that if you can't beat them, join them?
The people's choice
Such a double standard supports a
billionaire known for firing people.
And promotes the delusion that he
is an "outsider." When in reality,
the only way to amass a fortune
like his is the play the game and...
bend a few rules to one's benefit.
How naive are we? Basking in his
golden glow seems to have blinded
many. How can anybody believe
that someone who lives in a gilded
cage has any comprehension of our
wants or needs?! Are they NUTS?!
Rich in character
Personal wealth should't matter. While
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's reserves
had a better pedigree, he was quite
"comfortable". The big difference is
that throughout his life he used his
wealth and pedigree as a springboard
to better the lives of others. Some may
paint him as a drunken and crippled
despot. However the fact is he made
this world a better place for all. And
while not a saint FDR was dedicated
to serving the people - not himself.
Thus it was all about US - not him.
Why would anybody support somebody
whose sole and primary purpose is self
aggrandizement? What baffles is not
how blatant this potential candidate's
ambition is. But rather how many of
us are more than happy to fuel his ego.
It's more than obvious what Mr. Trump
will gain from all of this. However one
must question whether the rest of us
will benefit in the process of following
him. Maybe his entertainment value is
enough. However this time he might
be calling the shots. What price glory?
Friday, April 29, 2016
Everything must go
I do a bit of consulting within the retail
arena. Most of my clients are investment
firms worried about the future of retail.
Frankly, they're smart to be concerned.
Over the last few years many venerable
retail brands have folded. And even the
biggies have had more than their share
of challenges. With mall traffic down
across America and most downtowns
barely surviving - there's no doubt that
something is rotten in retail land. The
question is what is all the stink about?
What happened to the American dream?
If I hear one more retailer blame their
business problems on the recession of
2008 I'm going to blow my brains out.
Why? Well first of all - after over eight
years we've all moved on to either a
better or worse place (or flip flopped
back/forth multiple times). Second,
whatever made you vulnerable back
then has either killed you by now or
you're finally smart enough to know
better. Excuses aside theres been a
mega shift in consumer thought over
the last decade. So who's winning?
Out of control
The fact is nothing has changed. From
the beginning of time consumers have
been fickle at best. What woos, engages,
and charms the masses ebbs and flows
according to their whims. Therefore a
chain with a store in every town like
Woolworths is now forgotten by most.
Most of the retail nameplates that we
grew up with plus many I've worked for
are gone forever. The question is who is
stepping up to the plate and satisfying
the needs of shoppers? Or... have many
just stopped buying what others sell?
For years consumers devoured whatever
we put before them. They simply couldn't
get enough! Which explains why we all
need walk-in closets the size of Dubuque.
After eons upon eons of consumption
the baby boomers finally decided that
enough is enough. Our downsizing alone
seems to now be more than enough to
fuel the conservative whims of our hip
offspring and succeeding generations.
No wonder vintage "discoveries" have
usurped traditional consumer shopping!
Even today they're raiding our closets!
Looking at my children - they are beyond
different than I was at their age. Whereas
we were consumed with gathering enough
accoutrements to validate our entry into
adulthood, they're perfectly happy to make
do with whatever they've got. Since the
beginning of time most young folks have
started out with a collection of hand-me-
downs. The difference is that rather than
resent said recycling, these young folks
are more than glad to spend their money
on experiences - not stuff. Which is akin
to where my generation's heads are also.
Work it out
Case in point - here in Lewistown our
historical downtown continues to see
the shut down of traditional retailers.
Hence many locals bemoan the "death"
of our community. Meanwhile, nothing
could be further from the truth. About
a year ago - a local lady opened a state-
of-the-art fitness center on Main Street.
Today she has 1,000 members paying
a monthly stipend - out of a population
that's just shy of 6,000. Proof that when
you give the people what they want...
they spend and spend and spend.
There has been a seismic shift in consumer
behavior. Upcoming generations are now
in control and they're more than different
than we Baby Boomers. While beyond self
consumed, they're not driven by acquiring
possessions. Rather it's all about quality of
life for these kids and their kids. Many are
making career choices based on work/life
balance rather than climbing up the ladder
for ascension's sake. Thus while the retail
world is changing, it just might be moving
in a better direction. What's questionable
is whether said dinosaurs can evolve.
Choosing to make do with less, our kids
have fully embraced the idea that less is
more. After growing up in McMansions
they're opting to reside in teeny one room
houses. Reverse chic is in full force. And
unfortunately that means that most of the
mega brands we know and used to love
may soon be gone. History repeats itself.
So if it's true that what goes around does
ultimately come around, our children's
children's children will be just like we
were seventy years from today. The only
question is will retail survive until then?
Thursday, April 28, 2016
How sweet it is
I've been reading a limited edition,
two volume boxed set entitled
"The Walk To Elsie's." Filled with
many memories and sketches by the
late Tony Duquette, it's much like
eating a box of Laduree macaroons.
Sweet and light. Written by Tony's
muse Hutton Wilkinson, this frothy
concoction is at times even too much
for me. But I'll admit that I secretly
find the story itself inspiring. That's
because it's all about the marriage
of art, ambition, and... commerce.
For those of you who are wondering if
Elsie is Borden's bovine, you're wrong.
Elsie de Wolfe was America's first true
Interior Decorator. A self proclaimed
ugly duckling, she transformed all that
she touched. Born to an impoverished
family of impeccable lineage, Elsie
freely traveled in the best social circles
from birth. However circumstances
required that Elsie do whatever it took
to fuel her more than elegant lifestyle.
And happily along the way Elsie made
our world a more beautiful place.
Tony Duquette's wealthy Michigan family
lost everything in the crash of 1929. Soon
thereafter they escaped to California. An
obvious creative genius, Tony went to Art
School and ended up working in the display
department at Bullock's department store in
downtown Los Angeles. Soon his efforts
garnered the attention of Hollywood's elite.
Slowly but surely he was making his mark.
However his struggles with self doubt and
lack of clout impeded his success. Then he
met a little old blue haired lesbian. Theirs
was perfect marriage of art and hutzpah.
Elsie de Wolfe lived most of her life in
the Villa Trianon adjacent to Versailles.
During World War I Elsie converted it
into an officer's hospital. Her service
garnered her the Croix de Guerre. Post
war she remained in France while she
decorated the finest homes in the world
and threw the best parties EVER! That
all ended with the Nazi invasion. Post
her escape Elsie arrived in New York
with torn stockings and little else. Said
brush with reality was the impetus for
Elsie to hitch her wagon way out west.
Post purchasing "the ugliest house in
Beverly Hills" Elsie began to work
her magic. Having lost her money,
home, and possessions she had to be
creative. For the first time in her life
less had to be more. Soon thereafter
she discovered Tony Duquette. His
slight of hand concoctions distracted
her guests from the house itself. Elsie
renamed it "After All" and during
World War II she charmed movie
royalty and refugee monarchs. And
soon Elsie amassed a new fortune.
In 1947 Elsie returned to Villa Trianon
with Tony Duquette in tow. Beyond
tales of Nazis drunkenly parading the
garden in her lingerie, her home had
survived the war intact. And so, Elsie
picked up where she left off. All while
giving Tony an entree into a magical
world where style and society happily
co-existed. Ultimately Elsie exited her
personal paradise at the ripe old age of
85 (or more). Leaving Tony behind to
do what he did best - make everything
even more fabulous than imaginable!
Twice as nice
While their story is all about glitz and
glam, it's more about the importance
of giving back. Elsie recognized Tony's
talent. Leveraging her assets she took
him to next while benefiting herself
as well. Whether one considers that
"mentoring" - Elsie's largesse became
the perfect launching pad for Tony's
success. She knew from experience
that talent is a precious commodity and
therefore should always carry a rather
hefty price tag. And so once again they
proved that two are better than one.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
OK... I'll admit it. Like most men I'm just
a big baby. If and when I come down with
some malady I'm reduced to a sniveling
mound of neediness. And suddenly I start
to lurk about the house like Nosferatu -
gingerly clinging to chair backs as I move
from sofa to kitchen or bath. During such
days of my infirmary it all becomes even
more about me. Who knew that could be
possible? And as I slowly sink into a pit
of self pity, there's really nothing sicker.
Just ask my caregiver Frank. That is if
you can find him wherever he's hiding!
The truth is that I finally caught that cold.
You know, the awful one that starts as a
tickle in your throat before it segways far
down into your chest? Almost everyone
I know has gotten it. And now the few
who've avoided being tainted thus far run
the other way as I near. There's little one
can do about the common cold but suffer
through it's impact. However I struggle
with it's ambiguity. Why did it have to be
me of all people? Why can't I somehow
find the strength to suffer against all odds?
And why can't anybody make me better?
More than you know
In my mind I'm rarely sick. Yet my
dutiful better half has suggested that
I keep a diary of my many maladies.
Obviously he's sick of me being sick.
Well actually, about complaining of
how I feel. In truth I think I'm rather
a healthy specimen. Like most there
comes the time when my body gives
up the fight. And once I finally give
in, everybody suffers. If only there
was a magic pill that cured said evil.
However if such a panacea existed,
what ever would we talk about?!
Same old story
Inevitably we focus on our health as
we age. Given old folks have little
else going on, they tell it like it is.
However said sagas are not just the
result of age. When you're young it's
rare that somebody pokes, prods, or
pops pills down your throat. Then
suddenly your body literally starts
to fall apart. So why wouldn't you
talk about being vivisected by some
some well paid physician? Facing
one's mortality is rarely the most
pleasant of circumstances.
Rather than sharing sob stories, it's time
to face reality. Unlike wine, one's health
does not improve with age. Thus against
all odds we must do our best to take care
of ourselves. My recent tummy troubles
resulted in the elimination of ten pounds.
Which spurred me to attempt to continue
said trend. I've been walking about to the
best of my ability along with controlling
my intake. But now that I've caught this
cold, could it all be for naught? Didn't
someone coin the phrase "feed a cold?"
Could brownies be the best medicine?
Somehow I've got to survive my sniffles
with as much dignity as possible. That
means that beyond coughing, one should
keep their mouth shut. Nobody needs to
know how you really feel given in truth
few actually care. Beyond the threat of
infection, my friends and family have no
need to deal with what's bothering me.
Hence it's time for me to act like a man
and suffer through the consequences.
However... late at night as I hack away,
this big baby can't help but desperately
miss his Mommy. And how sick is that?
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
The other evening at dusk Frank and
I strolled his garden out at the ranch.
It's a sylvan setting beside a bubbling.
creek. For days he's been preparing
beds and planting seeds. Battling
natural forces ever ready to reclaim
the turf. On this edge of civilization
a plum tree bloomed. However even
more beautiful was a bed filled with
daffodils in all their glory. And for
one brief spring moment his prairie
plat was transformed into paradise!
Could this be how the west was won?
Out of context
I asked Frank why he hadn't brought any
of said blossoms home. His answer was
"They belong here." Oddly that made
total sense. You see, if something thrives
within this rather challenging climate it's
literally a gift from God. And knowing
how hard it fought to get there, the very
idea of snipping it in the bud makes it
all seem futile. The dichotomy of what's
put there by God versus man is physical
proof that opposites attract. Overcoming
all obstacles makes the victor's spoils all
the more beautiful. What a blessing...
Frank's daffodils remind me of urban
life. The other day "Habitually Chic" -
one of my favorite blogs posted the
picture shown at left. There sits the
blossom filled median strip of soil
that runs up and down Park Avenue
in all of it's springtime glory. Seeing
those tulips and flowering branches
amidst the concrete jungle is actually
akin to discovering Frank's posies
out in these wide open spaces. Both
don't belong where they are. Yet their
alien invasion is beyond inspiring.
As I've said many times before, we all
want what we can't (or shouldn't) have.
Which explains why this transplanted
Easterner struggles with landscaping.
Many years ago "T's " garden house
was enrobed in magnificent wisteria.
Since then I've craved a pergola just
smothered in the stuff. Our Arts &
Crafts home is a perfect candidate if
only our climate agreed. Recently I
discovered a variety for Zone 4. Yet
post more research, I've learned that
it struggles to survive let alone bloom.
Proof that almost anything put out
of context has to fight to succeed.
Looking back on my life that at
least partially explains some of my
prior mistakes. Growing up in mid
century America, the very concept
of homosexuality was alien. While
we worried about men from Mars
nobody (including myself) wanted
to admit queers were a natural part
of the mix. Like Frank's daffodils, I
buried my true self deep down. Only
to blossom at a much later date.
Living in Central Montana, I'm probably
the equivalent of a hot house varietal. At
times I wonder why I do whatever comes
naturally. Last week I strolled downtown
to pick up some necessities including two
dozen chartreuse roses. Upon my arrival
back home I looked in the mirror. There
I stood wearing an azaelea pink Brooks
Brothers sweater cradling said posies in
my arms. What a sight I must have been
parading up and down Lewistown's main
drag. Talk about a rhinestone cowboy...
Whatever was I thinking?
Life is a banquet
Hopefully we all bring something to this
pot luck called life. The bits and pieces
that make us who we are come together
via capricious circumstances. Therefore
rather than allow oneself to blend into the
woodwork, each of us should celebrate
our differences. That's what ultimately
colors our collective world. Everyday
I rediscover all that makes the heart of
central Montana unique. All of which
is a reminder to enjoy every step of my
journey towards becoming a hybrid. And
how about you? Blossom while ye may...
Monday, April 25, 2016
Caught in the act
I've always said that one should be careful
of what they do as their Mother may find
out about it. As a wee boy I climbed onto
a neighbors garage rooftop with a buddy.
Given boys are invariably boys, at some
point we decided to wee - off the edge that
is. Upon returning home, Ethel was at the
door. "What were you two doing on Mrs.
Metzle's garage?" Obviously from the look
on my face, Mother knew said revelation
was a surprise. In response she reinforced
"I know everything you're going to do well
before you even think of doing it!"
Knowing that one can be busted at
anytime is rather a burden. And yet,
if nothing else it's a valid check and
balance that in my case has been a
benefit. Let's be honest, I'm certainly
no Pollyanna. However there have
been times when I've resisted the urge
to err simply because I didn't want to
get busted. We've all made mistakes.
And while some of them get to collect
monthly alimony checks, most simply
fade away. Well... that is until one day
they come back to haunt you.
I once attended a Gay Pride Parade.
During the subsequent hours, I bar
hopped with an entourage. One of
which was not at all to my liking. In
fact, I found him utterly repulsive.
Whereas from what I've been told -
I had a brief but intense love affair
with several Margaritas in succession.
The next morning I awoke with not
just a hangover but also a hanger on
snoozing au naturale beside me. Talk
about a rude awakening! Later on as
a friend advised I forgot all about it.
What goes around often comes back
to bite you in the ass. Hence it's best
to be on one's best behavior in order
to avoid temptation. Otherwise one
risks a chance encounter with a prior
error in judgment. So what would I
do if I bumped into said bedfellow?
Would I recognize the error of my
ways? For all I know he could be my
next boss, employee, or friend's new
husband? Ghosts can haunt you. So
isn't it better to behave in a manner
that would make your Mom proud?
Where forth art thou?
There is nothing wrong with reliving one's
past imperfect. Recently my bestie "T" hit
an auction preview. Thumbing through a
mound of photographs she suddenly came
upon an image that piqued her interest. One
afternoon long ago she posed for a friend
and then forgot about it. Suddenly there
before her lay a record of a moment in time.
Somewhere, somehow it had been waiting
to be rediscovered. Youth may be elusive
but memories are always a gift. And so I
bid on and won said remembrance of times
past. Now as always I've got her back...
Two for the road
"T" and I have shared a lifetime together.
Now that all of our parents are gone, few
remain who know what we know. Over
the years we've evolved into two very
different people than we were when we
first met. Yet in fact we remain the same
as we've always been. Knowing where
one has been enriches one's perspective.
Thus an occasional encounter with one's
past can end up being a happy reunion.
And even when one is reminded of some
prior mistake, it's further proof that we're
older and much, much wiser!